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The Cutting Edge

By Paul Benson

Click here to see pictures of the event

Throughout the generations every male among you shall be circumcised at the age of eight days…. Thus shall My covenant be marked in your flesh an everlasting pact,” the Holy One told Abraham. That passage has been the basis for Judaism’s most enduring ritual over the last 3,000 years – the brit milah.

But for many Jews living under unfriendly governments, like the former Soviet Union, ritual circumcision was either illegal or unavailable. That’s why Friends of Refugees of Eastern Europe (FREE) has spent the last 25 years including circumcisions among the many ways it assists Jewish immigrants.

When 6-year-old Alexander Vays became part of the covenant a few weeks ago at the Brooklyn Interfaith Hospital, FREE celebrated its 10,000th brit.
Vays under went general anesthesia, while two older patients, ages 42 and 62, had local anesthesia.

Avroham “Romi” Cohn, the mohel, said the importance of the brit lies in the fundamental nature of the rite. “The Torah consists of 613 mitzvot. This one outweighs the other 612.” Punctuating the point, he added that, “You have to make the brit on Yom Kippur,” if that is the eighth day after the birth.

Cohn – who circumcised 16 boys on his busiest day – refuses to accept money performing his duties. He has walked out of business meetings to do circumcisions. “Business can be done another day,”he said, “but the brit is on the eighth day. You can’t schedule it for the ninth”.

Circumcision at an older age complicates matters, according to FREE director, Rabbi Hershel Okunov. “Insurance, if they have it, covers the procedure,” he said but without coverage, immigrants face costs as high as $800 for one night admission, anesthesia, physician’s check-up, and an urologist, if necessary. But FREE offers to cover the costs for those who cannot afford it.

And the patients feel more complete. According to Mr. Cohn, “Some have waited years for this.”

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